The Drover’s De Facto, Anne Gambling

Related image
Mack cattle truck, triple road train
The Drover’s De Facto (1986) is from Frank Moorehouse’s collection of stories and essays inspired by the iconic Henry Lawson short story The Drover’s Wife, which I visited earlier (Louisa Lawson vs Kaye Schaffer) and which, if I spend yet another day stuck in Sydney, I might finish reviewing.

BTW isn’t ‘de facto’ so 1970s. I was passionate back then about not requiring government approval for my relationship status. Though I was eventually brought to realise that spouses and children should be acknowledged in some sort of formal way, about the same time as ‘de facto’ lost its stigma and fell out of common usage.

The ‘drover’ in Gambling’s story is a cattle truck driver from a Queensland cattle/oil town – think Dalby, Roma, Moonie (map). The Mack pictured above is about the right vintage (I care, I’m not sure you do) but from Victoria River in the NT. I would have included a photo of me and the Young Bride in front of my own much more modest cattle truck in 1974 but it’s home on my desktop. YB and I started off de facto, from day one, but in 1973 I got a job driving for a neighbour of my grandfather’s and mum couldn’t stand the shame if Grandma and Granddad found out about us living in sin.

‘She’ picked him up in a singles bar in the city,

… left with him.
He took her to a classy hotel in his big Mack truck.
Called ahead on the CB to reserve the honeymoon suite while she giggled like a schoolgirl, twenty-five with a degree.

His wife has shot through with their kid. He doesn’t have much to offer, a small house in a country town. He’s away a lot.

The romance of the bush overtook her sensibilities, Paterson and Lawson combined to urge her toward a life for which she was uneducated and unprepared.
But that’s OK, she said, I’ll work on my Masters. Yeah, he said, something to do, I guess.

This is starts out as an amusingly written story, though, in the Lawson tradition, with a sad ending – I would say with a pathetic ending but there’s a word whose meaning has been taken from us – of, I estimate, about 4,000 words or a third more than the old Bulletin 3,000 word limit which taught Lawson to write with such concision. But the undertones are savage, and I begin to wonder what truckie done her wrong.

‘She’ battles with the old wood stove. Chopping wood, which I like most country kids did routinely, gives her blisters and open sores. Having a hot meal on the table when he gets home. Or when he’s ready.

And he’d arrive home at whatever time it was and want to lay her. At first she thought it romantic until it came to the physical torture of no foreplay and no satisfaction ever, for her, enduring half an hour at a time … She’d go limp in his arms and if it was dark, she’d cry. Whimpering that he took for signs of ecstasy … Then he’d finish with a thrust … Soon, he would lift his head and say I’m hungry, how would you like to cook somethin’ for me, love?


They start to fight. She goes into town while he’s away, drinks and dances with the engineers in from the oilfields. He hears of course, from his mates, and belts her. And that’s it, it’s over, and soon she’s on the road out of town.

It’s an interesting, if obvious, riff on The Drover’s Wife, a middle class city girl thinking through an idle daydream. Working out for herself the consequences, though she might be pleased to know we’re not all stereotypes.


Anne Gambling, The Drover’s De Facto, first pub. in Latitudes, 1986

Frank Moorehouse (ed.), The Drover’s Wife, Knopf, Sydney, 2017

I have to put this here in case I later lose track of it, as I inevitably do. A terrific essay in the London Review of Books (June 2003) by Marxist literary academic Terry Eagleton, whom I greatly admire, reviewing three George Orwell biographies (here).

7 thoughts on “The Drover’s De Facto, Anne Gambling

  1. Hi Bill, I have this Moorhouse book which I bought on the strength of his name, but I haven’t so much as opened it yet, so I’m glad you have.
    I got it out to read this story for myself, but I wasn’t much impressed. A sneering, black-and-white caricature of humanity, where the central character stars as the only one in town with any decency or intelligence.
    And what versions of ‘Paterson and Lawson combined to urge the character’ toward a romantic view of bush life? A Wikipedia one perhaps? A Man from Snowy River movie?
    Surely not the story most likely to be known by a 25-year old with a degree and this story’s readers, The Drover’s Wife. And not the stories in Joe Wilson and his mates which see Lawson determined to puncture romantic ideas about the bush, and his women characters are ground down by poverty and old before their time.
    Which one/s of Paterson’s blokey poems made the bushman appealing?? If she’d read A Bush Christmas (the only one I can think of that has a woman in it) she’d know that the dour old woman in that one gets mocked for her common sense…


    • I think your review might be better than mine, tougher anyway. I agree that “Paterson and Lawson” is a very generic way of looking at the drover of myth, the two have very different pov’s. But I think Gambling was just trying to say things haven’t changed much (without actually having ever met a real truck driver).


      • Yes, I agree Bill. I read “Paterson and Lawson” as something that would be a commonly understood shorthand for the romantic bush myth – many such shorthands probably don’t bear much looking at, and anyhow, I think it’s the case that the myth continues despite the reality particularly perhaps for someone a bit footloose and looking for adventure. Well, she got it didn’t she. Sounds a bit like Anne Gambling is channelling Barbara Baynton?

        And, haha, yes, I think you probably do care more about the accuracy of the Mack than most of us do! Still your pic reminded me of my days of driving (with my family) around outback Queensland.


      • Sue, you don’t leave me much to say when you agree with me, you should try and pick an argument (ok, I know you find that difficult) or at least head off on a tangent. It’s interesting what a pull the romance of the bush has after all these years of ever increasing urbanization.


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